Known to his fans as 'The Bird' this Pitcher for a while seemed to be so wonderful you just couldn't keep your eyes off him
But he lost his blazing fast ball due to injury, left baseball for farming and road work, got married and had a daughter. Then a freak accident took his life at age 54 and you could add his name to the list of those in Neil Diamond's song who were done too soon.
But you won't find his name in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite how the fans adored him, despite the fact that when he pitched attendance soared, the front office just didn't like the man and were glad to see him go. Like a comet that streaked across the baseball skies he soon was lost to view, and didn't make headlines again until his death.
The Early Years
On August 4, 1954 in Worcester,Massachusetts Virginia Fidrych wife of Paul Fidrych gave birth to him and Named him Mark. He grew up in Northboro and when he attended Algonquin High School he was in three sports: Football, Basketball, and Baseball. However he never got a scholarship from any of them. Nevertheless a scout clocked his fastball and recommended him to the Detroit Tigers; so at the age of 19 he was drafted and joined their minor league roster.
Detroit Tigers drafted Mark in 1974 and while in the Minor League system his coach Jeff Hoagan looked at the lanky six foot three inch tall pitcher with the blonde mop top and gave him the nickname the Bird because he reminded him of the Sesame Street Character Big Bird.
The name stuck and when he promoted to the majors-- everybody in Detroit knew who 'The Bird' was.
Major League attraction
During that 1976 season, Fidrych went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA, pitching an astounding 24 complete games. And every time he headed to the pitchers mound all eyes were on him watching to see him manicure the mound and be the character they expected him to be. His fastballs were the best in the league, and everyone cheered when he struck out another batter.
During Spring Training in 1977 Mark damaged a knee; then about six weeks later he tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder. His super human efforts at being the best had taken its toll and from here on it was a struggle to just keep pitching. He ended that season 6-4 and turned down an invitation to the All-Star Game
He pitched only three games the next year and at the end of the season requested and was given his release. He tried a comeback with a minor league team ( Part of the Boston Redsox system) but his shoulder never healed and at the age of 29 he was out of baseball.
Fidrych bought a dump truck soon after his retirement from baseball in 1983 and opened his gravel business, settling into his post-baseball career as a regular businessman in Northborough,Massachusetts working on his farm, and doing road repair like an ordinary man. In 1986 he married his wife Ann and they soon had a daughter Jessica.
The Final Accident
In the 13th of April, 2009 the unthinkable happened. He was apparently working under a vehicle, doing some routine maintenance when a piece of his clothing caught on a moving part, and before anyone knew it he had been strangled. About 2:30 that afternoon a friend stopped by and found him. He called 911 but it was to late- Mark 'the bird' Fidrych was dead.
The singing group The Baseball Project wrote a song '1976' comparing him to a superstar and proclaiming 'It's always 1976' but Fidrych would not have agreed. In his mind he was a common man with an uncommon talent. While you won't find his name at Cooperstown,Pa It is engraved elsewhere. In late July July 2002 at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, in Pasadena,California, he was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals; and shortly after his death was honoured by the The National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame (NPASHF) in Troy, Michigan. .